Vicki Smith, John Raby —
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Many West Virginians who usually take the state’s fickle weather in stride were more on edge as superstorm Sandy knocked out power to thousands on Tuesday, with a June derecho that left some in the dark for up to two weeks still fresh in their minds.
The storm that hit late Monday and into Tuesday dumped up to 19 inches of snow in West Virginia, cutting electricity to about 271,000 customers and closing dozens of roads. One storm-related death was reported.
Power company officials had no immediate estimate on when service would be restored, though the number was down to about 267,000 Tuesday night.
That worried some people who had to endure up to two weeks of power outages after a June 29 windstorm left more than 680,000 state customers without electricity.
Richard Dunn of Sissonville was without power for 11 days this summer. He hoped it wouldn’t take that long this time around.
“Just get your generator, keep your refrigerator running and get your kerosene to have some heat,” he said. “Go home and sit in the dark.”
It’s not fun, he said. “But welcome to West Virginia.”
Appalachian Power reported about 154,000 customers without power Tuesday afternoon in 20 counties in southern West Virginia.
FirstEnergy subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison had 114,000 customers without power in 39 counties. The hardest-hit counties are Preston with 17,000 outages, Randolph with 16,000 and Upshur with 10,000.
Mon Power spokesman Mark Nitowski said helicopters used to survey hilly terrain have been grounded by high winds and snow, hampering assessment efforts.
“We continue to attack it the best we can and work toward getting everybody back,” Nitowski said.
Kanawha County, the state’s most populous county, also was the state’s hardest hit in terms of the number of outages. Appalachian Power said 41 percent, or 42,000, of its customers in the county were without service Tuesday afternoon.
Dunn, 17, got the day off from high school and drove 20 minutes to Cross Lanes with his parents to find a gas station that had electricity so he could fill up a kerosene can.
“It’s the only place with power,” Dunn said. “All of Sissonville’s out, as much as we’ve seen anyway.”
Ahead of Dunn in the kerosene line was Harmony Plate, 36, of Nitro, who said her home lost power for nearly two weeks during the derecho when a transformer blew in town.
“Last time we went without electricity and we got a whole bunch of stuff to make sure we didn’t go without again,” Plate said. “The only thing we can’t do is heat the water up.”
The gas station lost electricity earlier in the day before it was restored, and Plate was confident that would be the case at her home.
The biggest difference between the summer storm and this one was the timing. The derecho gave little warning.
This time, Appalachian Power had 400 crews from as far away as Texas ready to assist because the utility had days to prepare for superstorm Sandy.